Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
My husband John’s illness progressed, and self-care became harder. I felt like I was playing a bad game of catch-up. No matter how hard I tried, I never caught up with caregiving tasks, and there were always unchecked items on my to-do list. I wondered if I’d make it through the day.
When I was alone and honest with myself, I worried about burnout. Burnout can take years to develop. The caregiver’s feelings progress from enthusiasm (when they are first hired), to stagnation (too much work, too little time), to frustration (not being able to do the work), and finally, apathy (the result of exhaustion).
Even trained, dedicated health care workers are subject to burnout. I could be at risk of burnout or compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a form of burnout—physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. Unlike burnout, which develops slowly, compassion fatigue comes on quickly. It happens when someone cares too much.
Controlling and Focusing Thoughts
I thought about John all the time and hoped I wouldn’t have compassion fatigue. The holidays put additional pressure on me. I wanted to stop compassion fatigue before it stopped me.
I did this by controlling my thoughts. The idea came from Dr. Amit Sood, author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living. “As soon as you wake up, before you get out of bed, let your first thoughts be one of gratitude,” Dr. Sood advises.
The minute my eyes opened in the morning, I thought of someone who helped me. Other names came to mind. Each day, I thought of five people. Five more people the next day, and the next. I had a list of people who were kind, smart, and had my back. The mental exercise caused me to remember people from my past, and I was humbled by their kindness.
A Theme for Each Day
Dr. Sood believes that having a theme for each day of the week helps to reduce stress: Monday: gratitude. Tuesday: compassion. Wednesday: acceptance. Thursday: higher meaning. Friday: forgiveness. Saturday: celebration Sunday: reflection and prayer.
This sounded like a beneficial approach. I followed his advice but did it differently. Since I couldn’t remember all the themes, I chose one I could easily remember: love. This theme meshed with every day of caregiving.
Thinking about love reduced my stress and helped me get through the day. Love reminded me of why I was John’s caregiver. His love helped me find my way through the caregiving maze. The maze had twists, turns, and corners. I would deal with an issue, turn a corner, and another challenge appeared. But there was always love at the end of the day.
Visit Harriet’s website: www.harriethodgson.net.
Read more by Harriet on Open to Hope: https://www.opentohope.com/get-a-grief-buddy/